5 Food Court Traps to Avoid During the Holiday Season

By: Echo Surina

Shopping malls are not the place to be during the holidays -- and the food court could be the worst place of all. See more Christmas pictures.

Whether or not the country's economic doldrums will curtail the holiday shopping season as dramatically as last year, shoppers can expect one thing to remain the same come November and December. Malls and shopping plazas will be busier than any other time of year. And one of the most congested areas for shoppers is the food court. It bottlenecks patrons into a crowded area and presents an array of traps that can take some of the fun out of shopping. Check out these five easy things you can do to buoy your mood, protect your pocketbook and save time.


5: Crowds and Congested Areas

Whether you're window shopping or on a mission to buy items and get out of the mall quickly, plan your shopping route ahead of time. Directories and facility maps are often near points of entrance, so go ahead and familiarize yourself with the shopping center's layout. A little forethought can help you avoid backtracking, save time or steer clear of high-traffic areas like food courts.

Food courts are notorious for their congestion. While they may be busy all day long, especially throughout the holiday season, they're likely to be most hectic around lunch or dinner. To avoid these eating areas during traditional mealtimes, try timing your shopping so that you find yourself well away from the food court when it's likely to be busiest. Also, you can avoid crowds by starting your shopping early in the day, when the mall opens, before the majority of shoppers arrive.


4: Noise Pollution

This many people -- and this many voices -- will produce quite a bit of noise.
This many people -- and this many voices -- will produce quite a bit of noise.

Food courts attract loads of people, making them possibly the loudest areas in the mall. The cacophony of sounds coming from here can leave us feeling stressed, anxious and even lower our energy levels. In fact, such noise pollution can cause hypertension, headaches and aggravation, among other things. To protect yourself, try wearing headphones. Listen to your favorite upbeat songs and jam out or relax to soothing tunes using your iPod to drown out unpleasant background noise. You can even listen to books on tape or educational downloads. Not bad -- shop and expand your mind at the same time! Earplugs work well, too. If you have long hair and wear it down, earplugs will hardly be noticeable.


3: Food

It's no secret that food court offerings aren't the healthiest of entrees. Typically, fast-food chains dominate this area. Hamburgers, french fries, pizza, soda, jumbo chocolate chip cookies -- you'll find high-calorie, high-fat items like these here. Stay strong and resist these temptations by bringing a water bottle and healthy snack from home like granola bars, trail mix or fruit.

If you prefer a proper meal when out shopping for the day, don't forget that retail centers often have restaurants nearby off-premises (some are even within walking distance). You're better off going to a restaurant: You'll probably get better tasting, healthier, less expensive fare. If you don't mind preplanning, make a reservation so you don't have to wait for a table.


2: Find a Seat

Don't expect the food court to have this many seats.
Don't expect the food court to have this many seats.

Shopping during the holiday season can equate to double-digit hours spent on your feet. Needless to say, shopping leaves many of us exhausted. After all, it's usually difficult to find a spot to sit down. Sure, the food court offers a lot of seating, but too often it's taken. Contrary to what you might think, the food court isn't the best place to rest during the bustling holidays (especially if you're easily tempted by the unhealthy food). If you find an empty chair there, go ahead and let someone else have it. Instead, find a place to sit away from the center of activity. Indoor and outdoor shopping complexes should have benches located outside around the perimeter or at least away from the food court. Take advantage of them and enjoy the fresh air.

Another option that's often overlooked is the massage chair. You're likely to find massage chairs in pairs or a bank of three. A massage will cost less than you probably pay for a cup of coffee. So next time you see one, treat yourself. If no one is waiting to use it when it shuts off, linger and enjoy the rest (fellow shoppers can't tell when it shuts off anyway).


1: Restrooms

Because food courts are popular spots along main thoroughfares, you'll always find restrooms nearby. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean they're available. High traffic flow equates to long lines. Don't get caught desperate for a restroom with a line a mile long. When you first arrive at the mall and scan the directory to get oriented, take note of where the restrooms farthest from main corridors are located, and use them. Fewer people will be using facilities in more obscure areas. Also, take advantage of family restrooms. You don't have to have a toddler in tow or need a changing table to access them. They're too often the forgotten option.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • National Retail Federation. Average Person Has Completed Far Less Holiday Shopping Than In Previous Years. http://www.nrf.com/modules.php?name=News&op=viewlive&sp_id=618.
  • Oxford University Press's British Medical Bulletin, Noise Pollution: Non-auditory effects on health.http://bmb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/68/1/243?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=%28indoor+AND+noise+AND+pollution+AND+research%29&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT.